News | January 21, 2017

New Food-Safety Tech To Be Unveiled At Ag Station

Cornell University food scientists are putting the squeeze on the microorganisms that spoil food and make people sick.

With the installation of a new, commercial-scale, high-pressure food processing unit, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has become the nation’s first commercial scale validation facility for a technology that kills foodborne pathogens and extends shelf-life — without heat or chemical preservatives — for fresh, ready-to-eat foods such as juice, baby foods, meats and salads.

The new Hiperbaric 55 high-pressure food processor at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva will set food safety standards for the increasingly popular high-pressure processing favored by companies for its ability to retain fresh quality attributes in food while inactivating spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms, Cornell said.

The device and the facility are to be unveiled Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Ag Station in Geneva.

High-pressure food processing takes ready-to-eat foods, already in their final packages, surrounds the packages with water, then subjects them to isostatic pressure up to 87,000 pounds per square inch. For comparison, that’s more than six times the pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench on earth.

Better understanding of high-pressure food processing is especially important for manufacturers of fresh, packaged, ready-to-eat foods: that segment of the food market is booming as consumers look for healthier choices but still demand convenience. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, supermarket sales of prepared, ready-to-eat foods grew at twice the rate of other grocery products in the mid-2000s.

Food science professor Randy Worobo is overseeing the new validation center that houses the high-pressure processing unit. The validation center is part of the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell, established in 2015 with $2 million in state funding to harness Cornell’s strengths in food safety research and training to combat foodborne illness.

“The food industry is adapting high-pressure processing very rapidly because it retains the fresh-like character of the food products while guaranteeing safety by inactivating foodborne pathogens,” Worobo said.

“With this machine we take giant steps in our work to revolutionize the food processing industry and place the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and especially the Experiment Station in Geneva at its epicenter,” said recently retired New York State Sen. Mike Nozzolio.

The commercial-grade processor at Cornell is the first in the United States installed within a Biohazard Level 2 facility, which means researchers will be able to introduce pathogens to foods and test how well the pressure system kills them.

That’s important for companies in dealing with regulatory agencies tasked with ensuring food safety, according to Cornell.

“Because high-pressure processing is such a new technology, the federal regulatory agencies are not that familiar with it, and what they expect is for companies to have validation studies that actually demonstrate that under this pressure, for this time, with this food, that you get a consistent pathogen reduction that meets regulatory guidelines,” Worobo said.

SOURCE: Cornell University